PEKING — New York Times correspondent John F. Burns, detained since Thursday on suspicion of espionage, will be allowed his first visitors today--his wife and British Embassy officers--Chinese officials told the embassy Sunday.
An embassy spokesman said the Chinese gave no reason for the delay in granting access to Burns, a Briton detained on charges arising from a trip in north-central China earlier this month.
The embassy was formally told of Burns' detention on Friday afternoon. Under a 1984 Sino-British consular agreement, access should be granted within two days.
Chinese officials told the embassy Burns was being held on suspicion of "entering an area forbidden to foreigners, gathering intelligence information and espionage."
Traveling by Motorcycle
Burns, 41, and two companions were traveling by motorcycle through parts of north-central China early in July and were en route from Xian to Chongqing when police in southern Shaanxi province detained them for two days near the border of Sichuan province. They accused Burns of being in a closed area without a permit, confiscated his film and made him write a self-criticism, his wife, Jane Scott-Long, said.
Burns is the first foreign journalist to be detained in China on suspicion of espionage since the rise to power of Deng Xiaoping in 1979 and one of only a handful of foreigners to have been detained for any reason.
Western diplomats say that they are puzzled by the incident and that the move is likely to harm the "open door" image Peking has worked so hard to promote.
"It appears to be an overreaction by the Chinese, particularly the espionage charge," one Western diplomat said. "The case is sure to damage the image of openness and liberalization they have worked so hard to project."
Another diplomat said he believes Chinese foreign affairs officials may be extremely concerned about the effects the case could have on China's image abroad, especially with public opinion in the United States.
Peking has worked for years to try to weaken support for the Nationalist Chinese in Taiwan.
"China has done an excellent job in recent years of undercutting support for the Taiwan lobby in Congress, but something like this raises all the old fears of Communist China as being just another Soviet Union," the diplomat said.